Capitol preview: What to expect this week in Florida politics

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Following last week’s kerfuffle over the funding for the University of South Florida, the university’s president and two university backers in the Senate will meet the architect of a proposed cut in the school’s budget that was reversed last week. On Monday, Sens. Jim Norman, and Arthenia Joyner, backers of the school, meet with Senate Budget Chairman JD Alexander and USF President Judy Genshaft.

Also this week, lawmakers answer the courts in a couple of cases. The courts frequently say laws are vague – and ask lawmakers to do something about it. This week the House takes up legislation that would spell out the governor’s power when it comes to rulemaking after a court said he didn’t really have much. Also, the Senate this week considers a bill that tries to tackle the problem of juveniles with long sentences and a Supreme Court edict that they get some sort of chance at release before they die.

Late in the week, lawmakers may get more ammo from the courts – a Tallahassee judge is expected to rule Friday on a challenge to last year’s law requiring state employees to contribute 3 percent to their retirement funds.

Also on the agenda this week in the Senate are a proposed ban on texting while driving and a crackdown on Internet cafes.

A preview via The News Service of Florida.

MONDAY, FEB. 20, 2012

SENATE

SENATE JUDICIARY: The Senate Judiciary Committee considers a bill to create a statewide wage theft statute (SB 862). The business community wants the statewide law because of local a ordinance in Miami-Dade County that sets out a board charged with settling pay disputes between workers and companies. Other bills before the committee include a bill (SB 646) that would let self-service storage facilities to notify owners by email if the contents of their units are about to be sold. If a storage unit renter doesn’t pay their bills, than the facility’s owner can sell the contents and has to notify the owner either in person or by letter. This bill would allow the facility owners to send the notice by email instead. Also, the panel considers legislation relating to the joint use of schools (SB 808), and legislation that has become a bit controversial, a measure changing how the student representative on the state university system Board of Governors is chosen (SJR 1508). (Monday, 10:30 a.m., 110 Senate Office Building, The Capitol.)

ADOPTION BILL IN SENATE JUDICIARY: The Judiciary Committee also considers a far-reaching adoption bill (SB 1874) that makes several changes to adoption laws. It makes changes to the obligations and responsibilities of unmarried biological fathers seeking to assert parental rights, outlines certain duties of the courts in petitions for termination of parental rights and restricts advertising for children up for adoption or that someone is seeking a child to adopt. The bill also bars DCF from taking certain newborns just because they’re addicted to drugs or alcohol, requiring that an effort is made first to get the child adopted. (Monday, 10:30 a.m., 110 Senate Office Building, The Capitol.)

TAX EXEMPTIONS IN JUDICIARY: A couple of proposed property tax exemption changes are before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday. Amendments proposed to the constitution would give an additional homestead tax break for surviving spouses of certain veterans or first responders (SJR 1056, SJR 1058). (Monday, 10:30 a.m., 110 Senate Office Building, The Capitol.)

DISCUSSION OF USF: In the wake of last week’s angry “discussion” over how much money the University of South Florida should get in its budget – a discussion that included a $25 million message in the form of a hold back, a few key lawmakers will hold what they hope is a more congenial discussion of the university and its budget. Major backers of USF, Republican Sen. Jim Norman and Democratic Sen. Arthenia Joyner, both of Tampa, will join USF President Judy Genshaft in a meeting with the Senate Budget chairman, JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales, who has emerged as the Tampa university’s chief critic. (Monday, 1 p.m. 229 Senate Office Building, The Capitol.)

ETHICS CONSIDERS CONFIRMATIONS: The Senate Ethics Subcommittee has a long list of potential confirmations for boards and commissions, none of which appear to be particularly controversial. (Monday, 4 p.m., 412 Knott Building, The Capitol.)

HOUSE

MORE POWER TO YOU: The House Rules and Calendar Committee will take up a bill (HB 7055) that would clarify administrative authority, particularly in the exercise of rulemaking by officers in the executive branch.  Sponsored by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, it would remove “unnecessary” or confusing delegation of rulemaking authority in the statutes. The executive that’s currently in place, Gov. Rick Scott, has not been a big fan of limits on his rulemaking – he put a complete halt to new rules on his first day in office, but the courts jumped in and reversed him. This bill is prompted by that 2011 Florida Supreme Court decision (Whiley v. Scott) that restricted the ability of the governor to control agency rulemaking authority.  The 5-2 decision included a request for clarification by the Legislature on the scope of gubernatorial power. This is the Republican-led branch’s response: Give it to him.  (Monday, 4:00 p.m., 404 House Office Building, the Capitol.)

HOUSE RULES TAKES UP ATHLETICS: The House Rules and Calendar Committee also takes up a measure (HB 1403) allowing high school students from larger private schools to participate in public school scholastic and athletic programs by increasing the cap on eligible private school enrollment from 150 to 250 students. (Monday 4 p.m., 404 House Office Building, The Capitol.)

ALSO

PSC LOOKS AT NEED FOR PORT EVERGLADES PROJECT: The Florida Public Service Commission will hold a hearing about Florida Power & Light’s proposal to build a 1,277-megawatt power plant at Port Everglades in Broward County. The hearing is aimed at determining whether a need exists for the natural-gas project, which would replace outdated electric-generating units at the site. (Monday, 9:30 a.m. Betty Easley Conference Center, 4075 Esplanade Way, Tallahassee.)

PROGRESS ENERGY SETTLEMENT DISCUSSED: The Florida Public Service Commission will hold a hearing about a major settlement agreement between Progress Energy Florida and attorneys for consumers and business groups. The settlement would lead to $288 million in refunds to customers and also would resolve issues about base rates and nuclear-power projects. (Monday, 1 p.m., Betty Easley Conference Center, 4075 Esplanade Way, Tallahassee.)

TUESDAY, FEB.21, 2012

SENATE

OIL AND GAS DRILLING IN BLACKWATER RIVER FOREST: A bill in Senate Environmental Preservation on Tuesday could open up state parks in the Panhandle and the Blackwater River State Forest to more oil and gas drilling. The measure in the Senate (SB 1158) is sponsored by Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker. The House version (HB 695) was recently amended to include only the Panhandle west of Tallahassee after concerns were raised about its possible application in southwest Florida. The state Board of Trustees can already lease some state land for oil and gas drilling. The bill would allow the state to enter into public-private partnerships that give the private company that has explored for oil and gas the right to be the company that gets the lease to actually drill it. Currently, there’s a bid process for leases if someone has explored and determined there’s a find, oil, that is, black gold, Texas Tea. But the lease would then go to the lowest bidder, not necessarily the company that found the resource in the first place. Under the bill, after exploration, private companies could sign up to do the exploration and the drilling without fear of being undercut by rivals after they’ve spent money on exploration. Fairways Exploration and Production is among the backers of the bill – because it’s in that situation. The company is exploring for oil in Blackwater River State Forest and is hoping to get an agreement on a lease in the area as part of the land management plan for the forest. (Tuesday, 9:15 a.m., 110 Senate Office Building, The Capitol.)

SENATE EDUCATION: The Senate Education PreK-12 Committee will workshop, but not vote, on SB 756, which would require middle-school courses in career and education planning include “Florida’s Career Clusters,” and establish requirements for career high school diplomas. The panel will try to vote on legislation (SB 1162) on charter academies, a bill (SB 1422) requiring that public schools put Sept. 11, 2001 into their curriculum, and a bill (SB 1468) that makes it clear that school districts can move up their opening date as early as they want to “enable students to complete all class work and assessments for fall-term courses 5 days before Christmas Day.” The current law says the earliest classes can start is 14 days before Labor Day, but this measure would allow schools to open earlier if needed. Another bill in the committee (SB 1728) allows cyberbullying awareness instruction. Another (SB 1698) requires the state attorney general to defend teachers in certain lawsuits, instead of their union. (Tuesday, 9:15 a.m., 301 Senate Office Building, The Capitol)

SENATE DEMOCRATIC CAUCUS: The Senate Democratic Caucus meets to discuss legislation and other caucus issues. (Tuesday, 12 p.m., 228 Senate Office Building, The Capitol.)

SENATE COMMUNITY AFFAIRS: Senate Community Affairs takes up a bill (SB 1580) that deals with public nuisance laws used to combat criminal gang activity and a measure (SB 1110) removing the limit on tax refunds for defense contractors using the Qualified Defense Contractor and Space Flight Business Tax Refund program, and the tax refund program for qualified target industry businesses. (Tuesday, 1 p.m., 412 Knott Building, The Capitol.)

SENATE BUDGET: The Senate Budget Committee will consider SB 488, which allows local governments to increase the surcharge for each violation of an ordinance against animal cruelty by up to $15.  As much as five dollars of the surcharge must be used for the training of animal control officers, with any remaining funds going to spay or neuter dogs and cats. The panel also takes up legislation aimed at combating human trafficking (SB 80), a measure (SB 188) ending the Urban Infill and Redevelopment Assistance Grant program, and a measure dealing with the merger or dissolution of special districts (SB 192). Also, Sen. Mike Bennett’s annual road rage bill (SB 244), which requires slow drivers to move over into the right lane out of the way of faster drivers is before the committee. Another measure deals with school districts getting insurance for their employees (SB 366), and the panel also votes on a proposed constitutional amendment (SJR 408) raising the age limit for judges. That’s not even half the bills available for consideration by the committee, which is trying to get measures to the floor. (Tuesday, 3:45 pm, 412 Knott Building, the Capitol.)

TEXTING WHILE DRIVING BAN: Among dozens of bills up for consideration in the Senate Budget Committee Tuesday is SB 416, a ban on texting while driving. (Tuesday, 3:45 pm, 412 Knott Building, the Capitol.)

HOUSE

APD ISSUES IN HEALTH CARE APPROPS: The House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee on Tuesday hears an update on two issues related to people with disabilities: the Agency for Persons With Disabilities overall Medicaid waiver deficit, and an overview of the intensive behavioral rate restructure at APD. The panel also hears a few bills related to health professions including measures on dental hygienists (HB 1313), physician assistants (HB 363), and radiological personnel (HB 309), as well as a bill dealing with blood establishments (HB 475). (Tuesday, 8 a.m., 212 Knott Building, The Capitol.)

HOUSE  GOV OP APPROPS TAKES UP PUBLIC/PRIVATE PARTNERSHIPS: The House Government Operations Appropriations Subcommittee is scheduled to hear a single bill, HB 337. The bill creates the Florida Public Private Partnership Act, which gives agencies more flexibility in entering in such contracts, by changing lowest bidder requirements and a host of other changes. s. (Tuesday 8:30 a.m., 404 House Office Building, The Capitol.)

SCHOOL  IMPROVEMENT AND HIGHER TUITION:  The House Education Committee takes up a proposed committee bill (PC EDC 12-02) that would allow the University of Florida and Florida State University to raise tuition beyond the differential rate already allowed if certain academic and financial standards are met. Another (PCB EDC 12-01) would bolster remedial actions for poor performing charter schools. (Tuesday 10:30 a.m., 102 House Office Building, The Capitol.)

BLOCK DRUG FELONS, JUNK FOOD EATERS FROM USING PUBLIC ASSISTANCE: A measure (HB 813) before the House Health and Human Services Committee on Tuesday today would require the Department of Children and Families to deny cash assistance benefits and food assistance benefits to anyone who has been convicted of a felony for the possession of drugs on or after July 1, 2012. The bill has an exception for people who have gone through a drug treatment program, and would allow the appointment of someone else to receive benefits on behalf of the person’s children. The measure is filed by Rep. Jimmy Smith, R-Inverness, who last year sponsored a measure requiring drug tests for those seeking cash assistance. The committee also takes up the bill (HB 1401) that tries to prevent people on food assistance from using their state-issued EBT card for junk food. (Tuesday, 10:30 a.m., 404 House Office Building, The Capitol.)

DILLON CLAIMS BILL MOVES FORWARD: The House Appropriations Committee takes up the William Dillon claims bill (HB 141) to provide relief for a man falsely imprisoned for 27 years. The panel also takes up a controversial measure that would allow random drug testing of state employees (HB 1205), and another to streamline the Department of Health (HB 1205.) A bill to give preference to Florida companies (HB 153) also comes up as does a measure that allows schools to expand the use of discretionary sales surtaxes for school construction (Tuesday, 3 p.m., 212 Knott  Building, the Capitol.)

HOUSE FINANCE AND TAX: The committee holds workshops on HB 595, and HB 4009. The first would allow municipalities with a specified population that are located within an enterprise zone to use local sales tax revenues to support the development of a retail development project by resolution. The later, HB 4009, would repeal some tax provisions on leased commercial property. (Tuesday, 3 p.m. 404 House Office Building, The Capitol.)

ALSO IN THE LEGISLATURE

PLANNED PARENTHOOD RALLY: Planned Parenthood supporters rally at the Capitol against bills that would restrict access to abortions and other women’s health services. (Tuesday, 2 p.m., Old Capitol.)

WEDNESDAY, FEB. 22, 2012

SENATE

SENATE COMMERCE AND TOURISM: The Senate C&T Committee has just one bill (SPB 7214), ratifying an obscure, but important sounding, rule adopting standards of the National Fire Protection Association for the storage and handling of liquefied petroleum gas and standards for gas appliances and gas piping. (Wednesday, 9 a.m., 401 Senate Office Building, The Capitol.)

SENATE GOV OVERSIGHT – GO FAST, TURN LEFT: The Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee also hears a bill (SB 266) that would make car racing an official state symbol. It’s sponsored by – you can guess – a senator from the Daytona area, Sen. Evelyn Lynn. The panel also hears measures related to health care license suspension (SB 594), autism (SB 722). It also takes up a bill (SB 1144) requiring the State Board of Administration to identify all companies in which public moneys are invested and which are doing certain types of business in or with Cuba or Syria, and encourage them to stop, and in some cases divest. Also on the agenda are bills dealing with the Florida Retirement System (SB 1334); and preference in award of state contracts (SB 1460), among others. (Wednesday, 12:30 p.m., 110 Senate Office Building, The Capitol.)

GRAHAM V. FLA. FIX: The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a Florida case in 2010 that juveniles who didn’t commit murder can’t be sentenced to life sentences, saying it is an unconstitutionally cruel punishment. But then last year, a state court said that in some cases, really long sentences for juveniles are essentially the same thing, “the functional equivalent of a life sentence.” The court, however, didn’t say what that length of time was. That’s where the Senate is going with SB 212, which is before the Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee on Wednesday. The bill makes inmates who were sentenced to life imprisonment for a nonhomicide offense committed when they under 18 eligible for resentencing after serving at least 25 years of the sentence. That allows for a reconsideration that could mean they’d be released, which was the problem the court had – the possibility that someone who committed a crime as a kid would have no chance for release before natural death. But it also would allow for the possibility of keeping the offender imprisoned. That would seem to satisfy the U.S. Supreme Court’s notion that release isn’t necessary, but must be considered. “A state is not required to guarantee eventual freedom to a juvenile offender convicted of a nonhomicide crime,” the U.S. Supreme Court said in the Graham case. “What the State must do, however, is give defendants like Graham some meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation. It is for the State, in the first instance, to explore the means and mechanisms for compliance.” And it also answers the state’s First District Court of Appeal, which said last year: “We encourage the Legislature to consider modifying Florida’s current sentencing scheme to include a mechanism for review of juvenile offenders sentenced as adults as discussed in Graham,” the court said. And this is it. (Wednesday, 3:30 p.m., 401 Senate Office Building, The Capitol.)

SENATE DRUG OFFENDER CASH ASSISTANCE BAN: The Senate version of the legislation (SB 1128) seeking to prevent drug felons from receiving temporary cash assistance or food assistance is on the agenda of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee Wednesday, along with several other bills. (Wednesday, 3:30 p.m., 37 Senate Office Building, The Capitol.)

HPV VACCINE INFO IS BACK: An issue that was highly controversial a couple of years ago, but has faded recently, returns in a bill before the Senate Health Regulation Committee on Wednesday. The measure (SB 1116), sponsored by Sen. Thad Altman, R-Viera, requires that schools provide the parents or guardians of certain public school students information regarding the human papillomavirus – which causes cervical cancer – and the availability of a vaccine. The bill also would require that the Department of Health adopt a rule adding the human papillomavirus to the list of communicable diseases for which immunizations are recommended. The panel also hears a bill related to abortions (SB 290) that deals primarily with third trimester abortions, prohibiting them after viability unless two doctors say it’s necessary to save the mother or to avoid substantial impairment of the mother. (Wednesday, 3:30 p.m., 412 Knott  Building, the Capitol.)

HOUSE

HOUSE IN SESSION – INTERNET CAFES?: The House meets Wednesday and currently has one bill on third reading, a measure (HB 1175) adding new compounds to the state’s drug law – an effort to stay a step ahead of the dealers who have used chemistry to make new drugs that technically aren’t yet illegal. The special order hasn’t been set, but bills on second reading that are available include the crack down on so-called “Internet cafes,” (HB 3). Also available is HB 19, which would allow school districts to advertise on school buses, and the bill (HB 31) banning funeral protests within a certain distance. (Wednesday, 1 p.m., House Chamber, The Capitol.)

ALSO

PROGRESS SETTLEMENT HEARING, PART TWO: If the Florida Public Service Commission does not finish Monday, it will continue a hearing about a major settlement agreement between Progress Energy Florida and attorneys for consumers and business groups. The settlement would lead to $288 million in refunds to customers and also would resolve issues about base rates and nuclear-power projects. (Wednesday, 9:30 a.m., Betty Easley Conference Center, 4075 Esplanade Way, Tallahassee.)

THURSDAY, FEB. 23, 2012

SENATE IN SESSION: A bill allowing corporate sponsorship of greenways and trails (SB 268), another allowing breast feeding mothers to get out of jury duty (SB 534), and a bill aimed at making it easier for homeless youth to get their birth certificates (SB 1662) are among the bills on second reading. The special order calendar hasn’t yet been set. There’s only one bill on third reading, a measure (SB 692) revising certain deadlines for applications for municipal incorporation. (Thursday, 9:45 a.m., Senate Chamber, The Capitol.)

FRIDAY, FEB. 24, 2012

SENATE IN SESSION: The Senate is in session Friday, its calendar still to be set. It has set out 9 hours to hear bills. (Friday, 9 a.m., Senate Chamber, The Capitol.)

ALSO

PENSION LAWSUIT: Judge Jackie Fulford conducts a hearing next to issue a ruling in the case challenging the changes to the pension laws. The judge is reserving one hour for the hearing. The Florida Education Association, is spearheading a class-action lawsuit filed last June arguing that the state’s new law requiring state employees to contribute 3 percent of their pension to their retirement violates contractual and collective-bargaining rights of employees. The FEA largely pins the case on a 1974 law that says the rights of retirement system members are “contractual in nature” and “shall not be abridged in any way.” (Friday, 3 p.m., Leon County Courthouse, Courtroom 3D, 301 S. Monroe St., Tallahassee.)

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.